Small Wars Journal

Ignore Phase 1 at Your Peril: A Call for Better Exercises

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:41am

Ignore Phase 1 at Your Peril: A Call for Better Exercises

Ian Kippen


The NATO certification process for a headquarters requires the staff to plan for an operation, typically four or five phases, and conduct high intensity war-fighting, which is normally a later phase. NATO rarely, if ever, exercises the deployment to and operation of the force in an environment that is under “hybrid” attack. If a military attack is likely, the commander must also prepare for the protection of key infrastructure and the defence of Alliance territory.  In those early stages, with the force still en route, the operational commander and staff will need to cope with such nuisances as the repercussions of fake news, cyber-attacks and service denial. The strategic commander will be coping with the impact of political and economic meddling and the tactical commander with an ambiguity that creates uncertainty for the soldiers on the ground. As such, the commander must maximise the use of everything at his/her disposal, especially civil-military integration and use of special forces. This paper makes a case for exercising these critical aspects of an operation, so we can learn and face what will be the “most likely” next war or battle.


Let’s start by painting a scenario.  We are creating a strategic plan for approval by our political masters - those who, in doctrinal terms, will be allocating resources for a war that they want us to fight. Typically, we will have four phases: Phase 1 Deter (convince the adversary that it would be futile to engage in conflict); Phase 2 Defend (we’ve not been able to deter so we are defending against and delaying the adversary, until we have built up the necessary forces for the next phase); Phase 3 Restore (expel the undeterred adversary to the extent that he/she will be deterred in the future); Phase 4 Transition (put everything back to a better condition to when we started so that Phase 1 Deterrence is  no longer necessary).

This seems quite straightforward, yet the first phase is either ignored or underdeveloped for a very simple reason.  To be evaluated and certified, our operational and tactical level headquarters must plan for and go through a high-intensity warfighting execution phase, which equates to Phase 3. It won’t be a surprise, because it’s in the calendar, normally two weeks in November.  Deterrence will clearly fail, and we will be defending on the rise of Scorpio as the requisite force has been magicked into position to heroically restore territorial integrity.  Two weeks later, the enemy will be defeated, the headquarters is certified, we pack up our things and go home; the victory parade is planned for the cusp of Sagittarius.  So, Phase 4 Transition and the extraction of the military force aren’t exercised either.

On too many occasions, as strategic planners, have we attempted to provide the direction that at least pretends that deterrence might work. After all, this is surely the aim of our political masters?  Yet the subordinate Headquarters will pay lip-service to this critical early phase and concentrate solely on the war-fighting.  Worse still, they assume that all of their military force requirements will be met by the supplying nations to conduct this high-intensity medium joint operation plus (MJO+) without cumbersome caveats or difficult command relationships.

Evaluation in NATO, whether at the operational level (OPEVAL) or tactical level (TACEVAL) observes and rates combat readiness and capability against prescribed requirements and standards.  Success, although I have never been aware of an unsuccessful evaluation, means certification of forces for use by the Alliance on operations.  An important bi-product is the sharing of best practise through the lessons identified and lessons learned process.

I am not denigrating the principle of warfighting for a headquarters; it is when our staff will be tested under the most demanding conditions and our commanders demonstrate brilliance in their operational art.  However, we fall short on understanding and coping with the most likely war, which is one that will stop short of force-on-force conflict.  Furthermore, should we cross the line and be required to fight, coherence between all phases is essential; Mao Tse-tung once wrote, “without a grasp of the situation as a whole, it is impossible to make any really good move on the chessboard.”[i]  This paper calls for exercise designers and evaluators to place equal emphasis on this critical opening phase of an operation: Deterrence.  To illustrate the points, I will use the West’s current popular adversary, Russia.  However, it would be reasonable to assume that any potential adversary would look to Russia’s strategic approach as bearing fruit and the exemplar of the way to do business.

What happened to Ukraine in 2014 was a wake-up call for NATO and the EU, despite statements made a year earlier by the Chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, depicting “a hybrid battleground involving ‘political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures’,” and that “the previously well-defined lines between the states of peace and war have become blurred”.[ii]  I will avoid quoting Sun Tzu, who has appeared in many presentations and writings on the hybrid threat and hybrid war.  However, a prophetic quote from the famous telegram sent by American diplomat George Kennan in 1946 illustrates that we are not very good at wake-up calls: "[Russia] will undermine the general political and strategic potential of major Western powers... to disrupt national self-confidence... to increase social and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity… Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where not, ignited.”[iii]

Given Alliance decisions following the NATO summit in Wales in 2014 and shortly after by the EU, the organisations seem to have awoken.  They are interacting more closely to “make both organisations better able to prepare and respond to hybrid threats effectively in a complementary and mutually supporting manner.”[iv]  NATO’s Responsiveness Action Plan (RAP) is certainly delivering something tangible in the form of an enhanced NATO Response Force (NRF), executable regionally focused plans and an enhanced forward presence (eFP).  Add to this a willingness to deploy land forces to NATO’s eastern periphery on high profile exercises to augment omnipresent activity in the maritime and air domains.  Perhaps the most significant problem facing the west is discerning what would constitute a threat of such significance that nations would be obliged to deploy forces at high expense with no real clear idea of how long they’d be committed, and ultimately prepared for casualties.  There is one thing about which we can be certain: the opinion of the nation in which we are operating will see the imminence of the threat differently to those many hundreds of miles away.  The commander will be the conduit between the national authorities and the strategic decision makers, and must face the problem of providing a balanced view.

Let’s go back to the scenario and Phase 1 – Deter.  There are three key features that we need to cover:

  • It is very likely that the force will be deployed into an environment where hybrid warfare is having a destabilising effect across all instruments of power.  Furthermore, hybrid activity will be attacking the centre of gravity (COG) of Alliance members and EU states, specifically to impede decision making and fracture cohesion.[v]
  • The commander will then need to operate in this environment, which has been shaped against us through this hybrid approach.  He/she must also be mindful that the operation could move to Phase 2 – Defend, and that preparations should commence as early as possible.  A good, well prepared defensive concept is also a strong deterrent factor.
  • The commander will not have all the resources required to do everything; cooperating with other organisations and careful prioritization of military tasks in order to optimise effects will be needed to create favourable conditions.  However, this will be made very difficult because of the first and second bullet points.

Deploying Into the Hybrid Environment

The tendency to meddle in its adversary’s politics is no longer news.  Most recently, Russia has been accused of attempting to influence the Dutch, French and German elections by hacking email accounts and spreading fake news.[vi]  There has also been speculation that the Kremlin has indirectly provided funds for fringe parties that appeal to both left and right leaning “swing” voters, promoting nationalism; unlikely bed-fellows include France’s Front National, Germany’s National Democratic Party and the UK Independence Party.[vii]  Such meddling has had a profound impact on European politics.  At the time of writing, 21 out of 28 member states of the EU and 20 out of 29 members of NATO have coalition governments.[viii]  Although coalition governments can work well and be more representative, commentators generally agree that it hampers decision making, particularly in foreign affairs and defence, due to some extent from their fiscal commitments brokered as part of the coalition deal.[ix]

It is also no longer a secret that broadcast media, the Internet and social media have been fully exploited in the weaponization of information.  “In the words of Russian media analyst Vasily Gatov, ‘if the 20th Century was defined by the battle for freedom of information and against censorship, the 21st Century will be defined by malevolent actors, states or corporations, abusing the right to freedom of information’.”[x]  Fake news and hacking are now common terms in our lexicon.  Again, we should not be overly surprised.  In their 2013 article on next generation war, Colonel Chekinov and Lieutenant-General Bogdanov, prominent writers on strategy, asymmetric operations, and future war, predicted that upcoming conflicts will be dominated by information and psychological warfare, which will seek to “depress the opponent’s armed forces personnel and population morally and psychologically.”[xi]  So why people ran around beating their breasts when Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu revealed in February that a new branch of the military dedicated to information warfare had been formed, we can only guess.  Whether it’s hacking the smartphones of NATO troops or spreading false reports of rape by German soldiers stationed in Lithuania, we are already under attack. [xii]  Social media is easily exploited through the use of “trolls” and web robots (also known as “bots”) to spread disinformation. It also helps Russia to sow confusion by putting out multiple versions of events.  NATO’s deputy secretary-general, Alexander Vershbow describes this as “an endlessly changing storyline designed to obfuscate and confuse, to create the impression that there are no reliable facts, and therefore no truth.”[xiii]  Russia Today, a pro-Kremlin TV network, has multiple Twitter accounts that generate a tweet every two minutes, which can reach millions of followers. Its page has 4.6 million Facebook “likes”, compared to Reuters’ 3.8 million.  Facebook has estimated that at the time of the 2016 US Presidential election, Russian sponsored content reached 126 million Americans, 40% of the population.[xiv]

Economics, particularly dependence on Russian energy, has been featured as a sidebar in many exercise scenarios.  Europe is shockingly dependent on Russian gas,[xv]  although energy prices are currently low compared to a few years ago.  However, the energy market is volatile and can create exceptional windfalls to those with the oil and gas reserves.  Sure, oil prices plunged by 77% between June 2014 and January 2016, severely undermining the activities of energy exporters. Despite sanctions and the drop in energy prices, Russia seems to have adapted well with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raising its forecast for Russia's 2017 GDP growth to 1.8% from its previous estimate of 1.4%.[xvi]  That plunge of 77% can be reversed easily should tensions rise in the Middle East, Nigeria or South America;[xvii] and it would be a very brave coalition government that tells their people to stop driving their cars or heating their houses because we need to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.  This could also be a convenient time to talk about corruption and how it can be levered across several EU and NATO members; ties between organised crime and political parties has resulted in government collapses in the last few years.  However, corruption, like the “N” word (I’m talking about Nuclear), if uttered by an exercise designer or planner alike, is akin to the proverbial bad smell in the room.  However, it is a reality that must be addressed, more on this later.

As our primary exercising audience is the operational commander, it’s easy to dismiss the above as a strategic issue and, as such, of little consequence; however, such strategic issues will have a profound impact at both operational and tactical levels.   First off, the strategic military level only participates in an exercise as a supporting headquarters.  They should exercise dealing with such issues in close cooperation with the political strategic headquarters, if not to thrash-out solutions, then, at least identify where the problems will lie.  Hybrid activity, such as economic coercion, can hamper the firm strategic political decision making required to commit to military intervention, introducing delays to critical operational aspects, such as the implementation of rules of engagement (ROE), thus restricting the commander’s freedom of action.  One particularly awkward decision will be what constitutes an attack on the Alliance.  Furthermore, we always exercise without awkward national caveats or command arrangements.  Anyone who served with the coalition headquarters in Iraq or Afghanistan will be familiar with the lengthy list of caveats that dictated what a contingent could and could not do.  How will the commander deal with a unit that is under tactical control and not operational control or tactical command? 

The operational commander will have numerous calls upon his/ her time, responding to both real and fake news.  Strategic communications (or StratCom in military parlance) has on too many occasions been the panacea to mitigate risk.  It needs to reinvigorate its role, especially given the following official definition: StratCom is "the coordinated and appropriate use of NATO communications activities and capabilities — Public Diplomacy, Public Affairs, Military Public Affairs, Information Operations (IO) and Psychological Operations — as appropriate, in support of Alliance policies, operations and activities, and in order to advance NATO's aims".[xviii] StratCom will need to be defensive, and as with all good defences, it should start very early and be thoroughly conversant with the human terrain.  It should also think carefully about how StratCom can regain lost territory.  There could be stifling legal issues that can only be identified and resolved through replicating and exercising within the contested information environment.

Operating in the Hybrid Environment

Given an apparent reduction this year of 25.5% in Russia’s defence spending[xix] it would be tempting to believe that EU and US sanctions are cutting deep into Russia’s military capability.  Even though The European Council on Foreign Relations puts this closer to 5%, it’s enough to have an impact on their ambitious modernisation programme.[xx] However, given the 2016 budget of $61 billion (4.5% of GDP), compared to the 2006 defence budget of $27 billion (2.4% of GDP), it’s still a lot of money available for military spending.[xxi]  Russia’s ZAPAD 17 exercise showed that they can still shift large amounts of military hardware.  But if it taught us anything, it was that there are two areas gaining in prominence: dominance of both the information environment and the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). 

The scenario for ZAPAD 17 certainly underlined that fake news will stay a substantial element of Russia´s hybrid warfare model.  However, it’s the real news that is of interest to NATO and the EU.  Executed predominantly in Belarus, a permanent four-dimensional combat force has been deployed near the borders of the Baltic Region, a mere 50km from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.  The scenario also demonstrated that Kaliningrad would be brought out of isolation by closing the Suwalki gap to block NATO’s only alternative to reinforce the Baltic States, which Russia would then take back through a “pre-emptive counter offensive”.[xxii]  The scenario also highlighted the strategic importance of the Baltic Sea islands and the northern part of Norway.[xxiii]  Whilst a scenario might display intent, Russia’s participation in the Syrian Civil War has aptly demonstrated its capability, especially launching sub-sonic Kalibr missiles (NATO designator SS-N-30A) in strikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria from warships in the Caspian Sea, a distance of 930 miles (1,488km).[xxiv]  This last autumn, President Putin test launched four nuclear capable Topol  missiles (NATO designator SS-27) in the style of Kim Jong-ung.  All of this is an excellent example of information warfare, mixing the fake (or pretend) and the real so that we might just believe everything we hear.  Even the belief that Russia might just resort to the first launch of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), possibly tipped with a nuclear warhead, would likely be the straw that breaks the political decision maker’s back.

The ZAPAD 17 Exercise Scenario[xxv]

To the best of my knowledge, we have never exercised a headquarters in the implications of fusing electronic warfare (EW) with cyber operations, which will allow EW forces to corrupt and disable computers and networked systems as well as disrupt the use of the EMS. Russia aspires to develop and field a full spectrum of EW capabilities to counter Western military communications and weapons guidance systems, augmenting its already formidable anti-access area denial (A2AD) capabilities.[xxvi] Again, we can mix potential fake news with reality.  Norwegian intelligence services declared that their country suffered an electronic attack during the ZAPAD 17 exercise, which they say came from Russia, with GPS signals on flights in northern Norway being jammed.  At the end of August this year, the western Latvian region of Kurzeme lost cellular service for seven hours; the loss of service coincided with the close presence of a Russian ship equipped, according to sources, with EW equipment.

The commander must also consider preparations for Phase 2 – Defence, which should start as early as possible.  It is likely that the military units and their hardware will only be partially within the operations area, with the remainder preparing to arrive.  Given our expectation that we will be in a hybrid threat environment where the information space is highly contested and confused, the force could be inadequate for a static defence.  Local government and civilian agencies will also be at work preparing for a possible conflict and there would likely be a flow of people moving to safer areas; all will be in competition for the same transportation routes the commander will need, to move forces and supplies. This is not to paint a gloomy picture, it is to advocate that the time to face these problems is during the exercise and not on a real-time operation.  We should treat the exercise as an opportunity to laboratory test the conflicting issues that the commander will face, particularly if combined with simulation and strong role players.  I believe that what we will find is a greater role for the strategic headquarters in taking some of the burden.  Again, this is an aspect that is rarely, if ever, played.

Optimising the Effects

The dilemma facing the commander is how to do everything required with what is available. NATO makes a great play of the “comprehensive approach” in the operations environment, recognising that the military element will be contributing to a broader non-military effort in sorting out the problems.  This will involve interaction with host nation authorities and other organisations at both the strategic and operational levels, starting with the planning stage and continuing throughout the execution of the operation.  The planners should have worked out where military effort can complement civilian led activity, striving towards a common goal.  But before we tackle this issue, it’s worth touching on another common fault during the planning stage.  Because our operational level planners are concentrating on the battle in Phase 3, they pay little attention to the resources required for operating in either Phase 1 or Phase 2.  As the operational design[xxvii] is developed, planners should identify the resources for the entire operation that will support and complement the NRF, as these additional requirements need to be committed to by the allied nations. 

The commander and his/her staff will not only be bombarded with demands for clarity on information issues, the Intelligence staff will struggle with the volume, as well as differentiating between true, partially true and false.  Additional Intelligence staff would certainly help.  Allied nations will also be able to help with countering EW and cyber-attacks.  We should also consider how we might cope with loss of communications and GPS signals; has anyone thought of requesting motor cycle couriers?  Given the ZAPAD 17 scenario above, lines of communication will also be severely contested; additional logistic and engineer assets are also common oversights. 

The force may even experience a hostile civilian environment, stirred by the onslaught of fake news and loss of services, exacerbated by internal displacement.  Solutions would be best provided by the host nation civilian agencies and international organisations, such as the EU, who with its political and economic clout, should play an increasingly important role. The June 2016 Global Strategy for the EU's Foreign and Security Policy states that the EU will enhance its strategic communications efforts and “step up its contribution to Europe's collective security, working closely with its partners, beginning with NATO”.[xxviii]  There are many areas where cooperation and coordination would be mutually beneficial to the two organisations, especially if they took an operational approach[xxix] to ensuring member states’ resilience.  The incorporation of a combined approach into countering hybrid warfare techniques, such as cyber-attacks, into exercises and training will also act as a deterrence. NATO and the EU could develop and exercise contingency plans and establish shared resilience requirements for hybrid scenarios.[xxx]

Cooperation between the EU and Russia has been nothing to write home about of late; Russia’s current attitude towards the EU is “at the expense of the Russian national interest”, according to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs.[xxxi]  However, the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany should come into operation in 2019 and European dependency on Russia’s gas is unlikely to decrease; the EU will become even more important as an interlocuter with Russia.

There is a clear link between corruption and organised crime,[xxxii] which could easily surface when substantial contracts are let for services provided to the NATO force.  Certainly, having an exercise inject that implied government corruption and links to organised crime within a scenario based on Allied territory would be a bridge too far.  However, it is an unfortunate reality that could severely discredit NATO and the EU.  Only national civil agencies and possibly the EU are in a position to advise and assist the commander in difficult decision making where there could be hint of corrupt practice.

Returning to my quote of General Gerasimov above, exercise scenarios have depicted an aggressor providing humanitarian aid to their diaspora for several years, echoing President Putin when he declared that he would “actively defend the rights of Russians… abroad, using the entire range of available means, from political and economic to operations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-defence".[xxxiii]  Russia is currently filling the vacuum left in the Balkans as western influence reduces; Russia increased military co-operation with Serbia: aid to Serbia 2014 – 2017 totalled $40m and a recent poll showed that Serbs believe Russia is one of their main benefactors, despite the fact that the EU has provided more than $3.16 billion in support.[xxxiv]  Where there are large Russian-speaking populations, Russian NGOs are particularly active; PBK, a Russian-language television channel in the Baltic States has (apparently) 4 million viewers in a region with a total population of 6.1 million.  Since 2004, messaging through NGOs and media has portrayed a particular version of historical events that has created tensions within Estonian and Latvian society.[xxxv]

Humanitarian aid and activity, supported by a strong information campaign, has brought strong Russian influence close to the EU and NATO periphery.  Together with economic factors, it is easy to see why this influence crosses the borders and impacts perceptions.  Our need for consensus in political decision making not only slows down direction, it can dilute it to the extent that the job of military planners becomes heavily constrained.  I will use the example of planning assumptions; whilst hated by some, they are essential for planners to fill gaps in knowledge and information about something that will happen in the near future.  I have seen real-time North Atlantic Council (NAC) Initiating Directive (NID) assumptions that had been so diluted, they were removed from reality and of no help to the military planner.  Assumptions help identify operational requirements, limitations and risks, and support option development.  Assumptions go wrong when they are used to assume away critical problems, such as dealing with opposing capabilities or unrealistic friendly capabilities or successes.[xxxvi]  Not only have we habitually assumed away inconvenient problems, we have not had to deal with awkward assumptions based on regional politics within the alliance.  Planners cannot change such assumptions that have been directed from above; they must exercise dealing with them head-on and develop means that would mitigate the inherent risks.

There is no question that special operations forces (SOF) can be a force multiplier.  However, the leap to Phase 3 results in an obsession with direct action (DA) and, like with StratCom, SOF features highly in our risk mitigation.  Whilst the NATO SOF doctrinal umbrella primarily supports military assistance as the core task of hybrid warfare, special reconnaissance could play a critical role in understanding the human terrain in the hybrid threat environment as its perpetrators seek to exploit ambiguity.  SOF would also play an important role in building trust and confidence with the host nation forces, while ground forces protect key infrastructure and prepare for the defence.[xxxvii]  An exercise that aims for deterrence to be a success should also be able to tackle the thorny question of the role of SOF pre-declaration of Article 5.  The exercise should identify any legal issues and limitations that need to be overcome, and laboratory test solutions.

There is one final aspect of the pre-force-on-force environment that I would like to touch on, and it’s one that we exercise insufficiently: crisis response measures (CRM).  CRMs are detailed actions that are detailed in advance and available to enhance preparations and provide essential support to the commander.   Measures, as agreed by NATO members, fall into categories such as manpower augmentation, logistics support and civil population protection.  Most planners will recognise them as trigrams in a paragraph in various planning documents.  In my experience, they are bulk-ordered under the “assumption” that they will be authorised by the NAC.  The reality is that each request for a single CRM must be fully justified before the NAC would consider authorisation, partially because implementing a CRM comes with financial implications.  We do not exercise writing a credible justification, nor do we play the impact of the CRM on the operation and the benefits it would bring to the commander.


Our current exercise and validation process forces us to concentrate on attacking our enemy’s COG; we need to concentrate on defending our own vulnerabilities in the build-up to deployment and especially during Phase 1.  In the modern operating environment, hybrid warfare will be taking its toll on our morale and decision-making processes.  Instead of leaping into battle, NATO should explore and find solutions to a whole range of issues that will adversely affect the deployment and employment of the force.  The military exercise is the ideal place to laboratory test Phase 1 and the transition to Phase 2, especially aspects of integrating with the civil authorities to maximise effect.  It might not be sexy, and it might not contribute to certification under the current regulations, but it will educate the staff in dealing with the most likely war and protect the people and their economies that are the raison d'être for our Alliance and Union.  In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger”.[xxxviii]

End Notes

[i] Mao Tse-tung, Selected Military Writings, p. 130, Foreign Languages Press 1968

[ii] Valery Gerasimov, the general with a doctrine for Russia by Henry Foy, Financial Times, 15 Sep 17 ( accessed 5 Nov 17)

[iii] The Invention of Russia: The Rise of Putin and the Age of Fake News By Arkady Ostrovsky, Penguin 2017

[iv] Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council, Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats, a European Union response Brussels 6 Jun 16, JOIN(2016) 18 final

[v] For more on COG, see my article

[vi] While the US Debates Election Meddling, Russian Strategy Remains on Course by George Tsereteli, Aug 17 (  accessed 4 Oct 17)

[vii] In the Kremlin’s pocket, The Economist 14 – 20 Feb 15 edition, p13

[viii] See, accessed 6 Nov 17; note that figures do not include Governments with weak majorities that rely on another party, such as the UK

[ix] See Coalition government is weaker, less decisive and more confused, by Polly Curtis, The Guardian Newspaper, 12 May 2011 and The weak government thesis: some new evidence, by de Haan, Sturm and Beekhuis, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999, p163-164

[x] The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money, by Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, Institute of Modern Russia, 2014

[xi] While the US Debates Election Meddling, Russian Strategy Remains on Course by George Tsereteli, Institute for Security & Development Policy, Aug 17 ( accessed 5 Nov 17)

[xii] Tsereteli article

[xiii] From the Public Diplomacy Forum 2015 ( accessed 5 Nov 17)

[xiv] Recommended reading: Leader and briefing on social media, The Economist 4 – 10 Nov 17

[xv] Is Europe Too Dependent on Russian Energy? By Sissi Bellomo, Carnegie Europe 12 Jul 17( accessed 6 Nov 17)

[xvi] See, accessed 6 Nov 17

[xvii] See accessed 6 Nov 17

[xviii] The official journal of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, Volume 1 Number 1, 2015 p11 ( accessed 7 Nov 11)

[xix] accessed 3 Nov 17

[xx] accessed 3 Nov 17

[xxi] Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations, Defense Intelligence Agency Publication 2017, p20

[xxii] See Five Things to Know About the Zapad-2017 Military Exercise by Mathieu Boulègue, Chatham House ( accessed 14 Dec 17)

[xxiii] Is Russia a credible threat to its western neighbours? The Economist Intelligence Unit, 16 Oct 17

[xxiv] BBC News, 7 Oct 15 ( accessed 7 Nov 17)

[xxv] Source: Zapad-2017 Exercises An Embarrassment For Belarus As Fictional State Achieves A Life Of Its Own, 15 Sep 17, The Middle East Media Research Institute ( accessed 13 Nov 17)

[xxvi] Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations, p42

[xxvii] For more on the Operational Design, see my paper: Help the Plan Survive Contact: Write Better Decisive Conditions,

[xxviii] European Parliament Briefing July 2016 ( accessed 1 Nov 17)

[xxix] Operational approach is a description of the broad actions the force must take to transform current conditions into those desired at end state. From Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

[xxx] Russia’s Hybrid Attacks Should, At Long Last, Force the EU and NATO to Team Up, by Franklin Kramer and Lauren Speranza, 2 Nov 17 in Defense One ( accessed 22 Nov 17)

[xxxi] Russia and the EU: friends or foes? by the Economist Intelligence Unit Webinar, 1 Nov 17

[xxxii] Examining the Links Between Organised Crime and Corruption, The Centre for the Study of Democracy, p55

[xxxiii] Atlantic Council, 2 Jul 14 ( accessed 7 Nov 17)

[xxxiv] The Economist, 25 Feb 17

[xxxv] Pomerantsev and Weiss p24

[xxxvi] AJP-5, Allied Joint Doctrine for Operational Level Planning, Jun 13

[xxxvii] Hybrid Warfare: How to Shape Special Operations Forces by Major Norbert Vaczi, HUN Army, dissertation for the US Army Command and General Staff College, 10 Jun 16

[xxxviii] Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche, Arcadia ebook, Maxims and Arrows p9


About the Author(s)

Ian Kippen is a retired British Army Officer now working as an independent consultant. He has held Staff Officer positions at SHAPE, JFC Brunssum and HQ ARRC as well as the MA position at UN Missions to Sierra Leone and DRC and held a staff position with NTM-A.


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Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:22pm


You make some good points in this article and I appreciate the attention and focus placed on the topic.

First, I would argue the majority of your assessments are contained in the Trident series Command Post Exercises and current Skolkan scenario. That scenario is very detailed regarding a state's hybrid warfare grand strategy. The strategy is rooted in history and phased escalation to what NATO considers a major joint operation plus (MJO+) in an extended JOA. The entire scenario presents significant operational dilemmas that are addressed beginning in Phase I. The dilemmas are not fully appreciated because the build-up and associated activities are disseminated before the exercise starts.

Additionally, the dilemmas never mature because the exercise ends, but if it were to keep going the dilemmas would have to be assessed, mitigated and where possible overcome to continue, revise or cancel the plan. At this point the dilemmas are rising above the JTF level and involve a variety of inter-organizational stakeholders and decision-making bodies.

The conventional joint aspect (includes SOF) of the overall fight is the tip of the iceberg as I think you mentioned. Cross-domain asymmetric threat networks, societal disarray, mistrust of the legitimate government and lack of government penetration are significant concerns after an Article V territorial restoration campaign. Not to mention effects associated with national rehabilitation and reconciliation, fluctuating regional popular support, rise of populism and divergent policy in NATO member states.

Begin Quote:

"Our current exercise and validation process forces us to concentrate on attacking our enemy’s COG."

End Quote:

The potential for COG miscalculation is higher than people expect. Friendly and adversary unfortunately. There a variety of contributing factors to this, but a COG debate is not my intent here.

If the adversary’s long-term strategy hinges on an indirect approach using multi-domain proxy organizations across the PMESII spectrum, what's their COG?

Does it changes based on the phase of the operation and "level" of warfare? How do we allocate forces and resources to exploit positions of relative advantage and opportunities? How do we consolidate gains if we are not prioritizing the correct targets and desired effects?

Adversary COG?

1) Conventional joint and irregular proxy forces with integrated air, ground and coastal defense networks?
2) Emergent, disruptive and WMD technological networks?
3) Proxy sanctuary and key "separatist" terrain and infrastructure networks?
4) All of the above

What's NATO COG? “NATO’s Cohesion”??

That seems intangible, but nonetheless vulnerable. A more realistic COG is a tangible agent or “doer” wielding power. That would be the North Atlantic Council (NAC). It is the only body in NATO that derives its authority explicitly from the Treaty. The treaty could be the COG I suppose, but the NAC is the wielder of the treaty's power. A physical agent and therefore tangible target.

NATO’s cohesion is a vulnerability because the use of proxy forces unchecked or mitigated by host nation law enforcement and NAC targeting approval erodes NATO’s cohesion country by country over time. This coupled with some of the non-military DIME dilemmas/vulnerabilities you mentioned.

A direct approach targeting the cohesion of a collective defense alliance is illogical. The opposite makes more sense through indirect non-military means and proxies to discredit, demoralize and divide in key hubs or power nodes.

Defending our own vulnerabilities means first, identifying them correctly with the other critical factors and then using the collective power of the Alliance to repair them and make them resilient to cross-domain drivers of instability. The geo-economic and strategic partnership systems contain the critical capabilities and requirements. Assure, deter, compete, and repeat.